MICHAEL KEATING. Covid-19: What we need to know.

An international inquiry into the origins of the Covid-19 virus misses the main point: what the world really needs is an inquiry into the effectiveness of the response.

Previous articles posted here by former diplomats have pointed out the crude stupidity of Australia’s call for an international inquiry into the origins of Covid-19. The timing and failure by the Australian Government to consult in advance of announcing its proposed inquiry, meant that it was naturally assumed that Australia was acting as the Trump Government’s willing catspaw.

Furthermore, the reality is that despite the efforts of the American administration to confuse the issue we probably know the origins of Covid-19. There does not seem to be any reason to doubt that it originated in a wildlife wet market in Wuhan.

Instead, what in due course, we really need an inquiry into, is how the world has managed its response to Covid-19.

Issues for such an inquiry would include:

  • The timing and effectiveness with which China notified the rest of the world of the existence of the virus
  • The effectiveness of the role played by the WHO in alerting countries and coordinating and facilitating their responses
  • Why some countries have succeeded much better than others in suppressing the virus, and what lessons can be gained from their different experiences about how to better respond to future pandemics of this kind.
  • What trade-off, if any, has there been between each country’s approach to stemming the spread of the virus and the impact on economic activity and unemployment.
  • How well nations are collaborating in the search for a vaccine, and the arrangements for sharing access to that vaccine when it becomes available.

Frankly, given Australia’s evident success in limiting the spread of the virus, one would expect Australia’s prestige to be enhanced by such an inquiry. The downside, however, is that this proposal is unlikely to get much US support as it would most likely damage the Trump Government’s reputation and Trump’s re-election prospects.

But such an inquiry would be of enormous value in helping all countries to respond to future pandemics.


Michael Keating is a former Secretary of the Departments of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Finance and Employment, and Industrial Relations.  He is presently a visiting fellow at the Australian National University. 

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9 Responses to MICHAEL KEATING. Covid-19: What we need to know.

  1. malcolm harrison says:

    ‘There does not seem to be any reason to doubt that it originated in a wildlife wet market in Wuhan.’

    It was the Chinese who suggested it might have started in the Wuhan wet markets. Since then there have been multiple reports of covid-19 cases occurring in the US and France before it was discovered in Wuhan. So, I would have thought there was plenty of reason to doubt that it originated there. In fact there is no evidence at this time that it did.

  2. Richard England says:

    A polite offer of collaboration would have been accepted. Demands from others that China submit to an inquiry that it has already been doing openly, and more honestly and effectively than the others, are arrogant rubbish. Technocratic China is already ahead of the rest in this area, and its government and people know it. Expect them to react to demands with contempt.

  3. Peter Martina says:

    I’d be more inclined to believe the Australian government was honest ( but incompetent ) if the call for an inquiry into the origin of the disease hadn’t been accompanied by the suggestion of sending in Iraqi like weapons inspectors. That was a blatant insult. However, I could be wrong. Maybe Morrison and Payne really are that mindblowingly incompetent. Either way the prospect of improved Australia-China relations is doomed.
    Trump shouldn’t have any problems with an inquiry into the response to the disease as the results probably wouldn’t be available until after the Presidential election in November.

  4. Anthony Pun says:

    Can’t tell the difference whether Australia’s call for an inquiry is genuine or political. Michael Keating’s question has a better chance of getting a “real & warm” response from China than Marise Payne. I agree with Teow Leoon Ti analysis which brings me back to what Mr Kruschev would have said when encountered with this type of question. He would take off his shoes and banged it hard at the UN meeting and said “Nyet”.

  5. Peter. Doyle. OAM says:

    My. Dear. Friends. I. Count. My. Blessings. Michael. Keating. Is. One. Of. Your. Correspondents. Peter. Doyle. OAM. Newcastle

  6. Barney Zwartz says:

    I don’t believe the Australian Government made its request to “poke China in the eye”, though I certainly agree that is the way it has been interpreted in Beijing. I believe it was, and is, a thoroughly reasonable request. Another three-score countries agree now.

    I entirely agree with Michael Keating’s “terms of reference”. It is not a Get China strategy, it is to try to stop a repetition. I have no doubt there are lessons for all, including Australia. That said, I still believe the CCP’s response and attitude throughout has been despicable, and it has been a mistake to assume we are dealing with a normal trading partner.

    • John Wallace says:

      This is the kind of dissembling that has been taking place in much of the Australian media. The countries now supporting the EU proposal are not agreeing with the proposal initiated by Marise Payne.
      Her proposal was focused on China’s performance. The European Commission initiative is focused on a range of global health issues, as I’ve commented on under Cavan Hogue’s article.

  7. Teow Loon Ti says:

    “It is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilisation is built up upon a renunciation of instinct.” should be the correct quote. I made a typing error.

  8. Teow Loon Ti says:


    Honestly, I am dismayed by the Austalian Government’s call for an inquiry into the origins of Covid19. It did not start as a polite request for the common good but and inspection of the kind meted out to Iraq and Iran. What motivated this call is anybody’s guess but one good one is the attempt to live up to Barack Obama’s comment that Australia punches above its weight. What I believe is the biggest mistake of the Australian government is the timing of the call i.e. at the time when we are challenged with the difficult revival of our economy. Decouple our economy from China by all means, if it needs be, but it should be done at “our own pace and timing.” Risking the economic welfare of a whole nation just to poke China in the eye is an impulse, not a rational decision. Unfortunately, we have a government that seems to act on instinct.
    Sigmund Freud says, “It is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilization is built up upon a renunciation if instinct.”


    Teow Loon Ti

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